“Sometimes the naughty babies would crawl up to the cowshed, catch the tail of a calf and stand up. The calves, being disturbed, would immediately begin running here and there, and the children would be dragged over clay and cow dung. To see this fun, Yashoda and Rohini would call all their neighboring friends, the gopis.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality Of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)
People make the complaint. It is legitimate in their eyes. After all, without precision where would we be in life? If the operators of the airplane promise to take passengers to the city of Chicago and they instead land in St. Louis, what will the reaction be to the following?
“Oh, it’s no big deal. You are close enough to Chicago. Just drive for a little bit. The cities are related, though typically in the sense of rivalry. I couldn’t find Chicago on the map, so I decided to land the plane here. Thank you for flying with us. We hope you choose our airline again.”
The charge as it relates to spiritual life is that words of Sanskrit origin must be pronounced properly. Moreover, the descriptions, accounts and teachings should be presented in a Sanskrit-derived language. Otherwise, the effect is not the same. The word mantra references delivering the mind through sound. If the sound produced through improper pronunciation is different from that intended, how can any help arrive? It would be something like calling out to emergency responders, but saying a different name. How would they know someone is asking for their assistance?
The counterargument is that there is an exception when the desire is for devotion, to serve the Divine with pure love. While every effort should be made to say the component words properly, a lack of success is not sufficient qualification for an offense. It is the object of service who makes the final determination, and from the interaction with parents and their children we see that imprecision is sometimes equivalent with the greatest offering.
The child is barely a year old. They are walking like a seasoned toddler. They jump onto the sofa and slide off without issue. They turn around when hearing their name. They smile upon seeing the parents, which is a heartwarming sight.
On the television the sounds of the maha-mantra constantly play: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Since birth this child has not been able to fall asleep unless someone sings a version of this mantra to them.
Now that they are a little more mature, they actually try to say words. When hearing the mantra, they immediately reply with the sound, “Ahm.” They say it while smiling ear to ear. They greet visitors to the home with this word.
Due to their age, the child cannot yet pronounce the sound from the letter “r.” They are obviously trying to repeat the holy name of Rama, but the sound that emerges is “ahm.” The parents take so much delight from hearing this sound. In total innocence the child is trying their best.
A few weeks later the same parents notice the child repeatedly saying “key-ka.” At first the father thinks the child is offering advice to keep calm. Modern-day life is quite stressful, and the parents have been known to lose their cool now and then.
The mother interjects and correctly identifies the child’s attempt: it is the word “Krishna.” From then on the sound of “key-ka” becomes as welcome as the sound of “ahm.” Of all the words the baby could be trying to say, this is what they prefer the most.
This is a basic interaction between parents and children, but one can try to imagine the joy and happiness felt by the Supreme Lord when any person tries to say His name over and over. Whether the “r” sound has the proper rolling of the tongue is of little consequence. The mistake of the “i” in Krishna getting pronounced as a double “e” sound is also forgiven.
We know from His lila that the Supreme Lord delivered great joy to the parents in Gokula, Nanda and Yashoda. The mothers in the community would take fun in watching childish play, such as riding the tail of a calf through the mud. The sound of baby Krishna trying to talk warmed their hearts. Parents are known to be affectionate in this way, to be overwhelmed with loving emotion at the sight of their children endeavoring for success in various ventures.
The intent is what counts. With Sanskrit mantras for other purposes, such as advancing materially, removing distress or winning a specific ability, the exact pronunciation is a strict requirement. With bhakti-yoga, any person, from any place in the world, during any time period of life has the potential for complete and full connection that is equivalent with liberation.
Improper pronunciation finding,
But Shri Krishna not minding.
Like loving parent viewing,
Not for correctness reviewing.
Since humble attempt made,
So much honor to Him paid.
Even pleasing that sound,
Since bhakti within it found.
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